Trolling all the way to the Bank

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We knew it was a long shot.

Kevin and I are determined, this year, to catch a bluefin tuna. We caught one once before, two years ago, but we didn’t really catch it. Our friend Jon took us out on his boat, with his know-how, and his equipment, and we caught one. It was exciting, and it was delicious, and it made us want to catch one ourselves, on our boat, with our know-how and our equipment.

So we’ve spent an ungodly amount of time acquiring know-how and money acquiring equipment. We already had the boat.

We’d been watching the weather, and forecast for this past weekend was for good fishing conditions: sunny but not hot, and calm. The only problem was that there weren’t many reports of tuna, at least close in. The bigger boats were going out to an area called the Regal Sword, some forty open-ocean miles southeast of Chatham. The area was named after a 575-foot freighter that sank in the vicinity in 1979 and, although no people have located the wreck, the tuna seem to know where it is.

Last Thursday, we stopped in at The Hook-Up, a tackle shop that specializes in tuna equipment. It’s owned by Eric Stewart, probably the best-known tuna charter captain in these parts; his boat, the Tammy Rose, is the one other tuna hopefuls follow.

Our boat is too small to follow. Although, when the weather’s good, you can take a 23-foot boat out that far – and people do – I’m not keen on offshore fishing without a little more substance between me and the open ocean. Besides, Eric and most of the other tuna fishermen are out for the big fish, 73 inches and above. Kevin and I, because we fish to eat, are out for smaller fish.

A favorite haunt of those smaller fish is Peaked Hill, an area along the outer shore of Provincetown, and that’s where we planned to fish. We hadn’t heard reports of fish there, but we knew we’d get the latest at The Hook-Up, along with the last couple of things we needed for the boat.

Seven hundred dollars later, we walked out with a pointy stick, some rubber squid, and the knowledge that at least one small tuna had reportedly been caught off Peaked Hill that morning.

We set the alarm for 3:30 Saturday morning.

The night before, we loaded the boat with both equipment and mojo. Our tuna reels had been Eric Stewarts; we bought them from him over the winter, when he changed out some of his gear. Jon had given us a wishing-you-tuna gift in the form of leashes – ropes that go over a cleat and clip on the rod, so you don’t lose it in case it gets yanked out of the rod holder. And we had our friend Bob’s harpoon, which appeared outside our garage while we were out running errands. I think it was because I posted on Facebook that Kevin was making a harpoon out of a broomstick, and Bob’s wife, Suzie, thought we ought to have something more substantial. Kevin now does a mean Ahab.

We took provisions for two days, since our plan was to stay overnight on our mooring in Provincetown if we didn’t get a fish on Saturday, and try again on Sunday. We filled the tank. We were underway at 4:30.

We made it to Peaked Hill just as the sun was coming up. Dawn is said to be prime tuna fishing time, because the fish can’t feed in the dark. First light is breakfast time. We set out four rods, each with a squid bar — a metal bar about three feet long with a whole bunch of squid lures attached to it, and slowed to trolling speed, about 3.5 knots.

Sunrise over no fish

Sunrise over no fish

The tuna were evidently breakfasting elsewhere. Although there were some markers of fish activity – birds were eating baitfish and a couple of whales swam through – there were no fish. We didn’t get a bite, and we didn’t see anyone else get one, either.

Just north of the cape, there’s a huge area of ocean called Stellwagen Bank. It’s an underwater plateau – 842 square miles of one – and a prime area for fishing. Ocean currents hit the sides of plateau, and send nutrients up to the fish, who have long known about the phenomenon. People, on the other hand, have known about it only since 1854, when Henry Stellwagen, a lieutenant commander in the United States Navy, mapped it.

Trolling, trolling, trolling

Trolling, trolling, trolling

When no tuna showed themselves at Peaked Hill, Kevin and I headed toward the southwest corner of Stellwagen Bank, about ten miles off Provincetown, trolling all the way. There were no fish there, either.

And so it went, for two whole days. We trolled around, not catching fish, and watching other boats not catching fish. There were a couple other people trolling, but most of the boats were livelining bluefish – you create a chum slick with chunks of a fatty fish like herring or mackerel, and then put a live bluefish out as bait. Neither the trollers nor the chummers caught a bloody thing.

Livelining bluefish, and waiting

Livelining bluefish, and waiting

Oddly, it was a wonderful weekend. Although “dry run” is an inapt description of any sea-borne venture, Kevin and I did get a chance to figure out how to fish with recalcitrant outriggers, tangle-prone squid bars, and unfamiliar set-ups. The weather was calm and sunny. We had NPR on as we watched to make sure our lures didn’t cross or get fouled with seaweed. We listened to the back-and-forth on the marine radio, and were relieved when the woman with the serious injury made it to the hospital and the Crazy Ivan, a fishing boat that hadn’t made it back by its appointed time, was finally located. We had dinner on the boat in Provincetown harbor.

When we lived in New York, I spent a lot of time golfing. When the weather allowed, I often played twice a week – a weekday round with my friend Ann, and a weekend round with Kevin. It was a lot of time and a lot of money, but I valued it enough to spend both. When I play golf, I think about nothing but golf. I’m not thinking about the deadline coming up, or the funny noise the car is making, or what’s for dinner, and I find that it does me good to leave those things alone for a while. I’m a little fresher when I come back to them.

Fishing is the new golf, and I got two whole days away from oysters and writing and the funny noise the car is making. There’s only one thing that could have made the trip better. It’s out there, swimming around somewhere, and we’ll get it next time.

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Comments

  1. What that saying?? A bad day fishing,golfing( etc.) is better than a good day working..
    Oh and I love that you used the word recalcitrant. My favorite word, but I usualy use it when refering to residents or fellows.

  2. You haven’t forgotten! But I still miss you on the golf course. Now I play with you vicariously in my head. Love to you and Kevin.

    • But of course I haven’t forgotten. We will play again some day.

      • bro Marty says:

        the summer doldrums have snuck in;soon that cool breeze will kick in and the fish will respond maybe you guys will find tuna closer in I dont know how mant times ive over run the target and found the fish closer to home kinda like the bluefish ya caught at horseshoe. Im praying for a back yard catch followed by a backyard BBQ

  3. Withdrawal, Tamar. I’m going through it. I’m sure I’m not the only one missing you. Hope all is well on the Cape and you will back soon with more adventures. Meanwhile, I’ll hope your absence is fun-related, not crisis-related.

    • Potato! I’m sorry to have been MIA, and I’m afraid I may be for a little while longer. It’s not a crisis — just a whole heap of that thing they call work. Lots of oysters to tend, lots of stories to write. When I can get my head above water again, I’ll be back! Meantime, thanks for the kind words.

      • Just another reader letting you know that your posts are sorely missed. They let me escape from the noises the car makes and thinking about what’s for dinner. (and the noises the kids make when they don’t like what’s for dinner.) Glad to hear that you are well and busy – looking forward to seeing you here again soon.

      • So glad to hear all is well, Tamar. My summer has felt all “death and grief and sorrow and murder” (to quote Steve Martin) and I think I’m starting to project onto other folks. Looking forward to hearing your stories once you’re “back on dry land.”

  4. In your trolling did you try different speeds? When I was a boy 1960s-70s we caught blue fish off the Race in Ct. We got skunked for along time, but one day my father adjusted the carb down on an old engine ,a Lathrope engine on a converted catboat. This cause your lures to be a a different water depth. An old fisherman he met gave him that piece of advice.
    We caught a lot of fish. Now Blues aren’t tuna but the principal might work.
    We also fished just into the Race where the water boiled on the edge of the chop.
    Thank you for your wonderful story ,it took me back to some great times I share with my Dad as an awkward teen learning to grow up. Good luck on your next trip.

    • Steve — Good to hear from a fellow fisherman.

      Your advice about mixing it up is spot-on, I think. With the tuna, we have a bunch of squid lures of different shapes and sizes, and we need to buy one or two that are Sluggos (eel-like things) instead. The one time we did catch a bluefin, that’s exactly what we did — traded a squid lure that wasn’t working for a sluggo. Turns out, the tuna were eating sand eels.

      Changing depth, changing lures, changing speeds — it all matters.

      I’m glad you liked the story.

  5. Marcia Gohman says:

    Hey! I’ve been missing your posts! Glad to hear you are doing well, but sheesh!! Get back in here!

    Hope you’re having a lot of fun!

    Marcia